The books I read, the podcasts I listened to, and the films I saw in 2023

At the end of each year, I list the books that I have read during that year. Earlier years were 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012. Below, you will find the list of books that I’ve read in 2023. Every year I also include an overview of my other media consumption habits (magazines, RSS feeds, podcasts, etc.). This year and for the first time, I’ll also reflect on the films that I got to see in the cinema.

If you’d like to receive my short book reviews in your mailbox every four weeks, then please subscribe to my books newsletter here.

This year, I’ve only managed to read 36 books for a total of 9,816 pages. This is way less than last year, and about the same as the year before. I don’t really know what changed in comparison to last year.

One third of the books that I’ve read were written by women. About a third of the books that I’ve read had authors that were born in the US or the UK, a third were from Dutch or Belgian writers, and a third came from the rest of the world. All of this is about the same as last year.

I’ve ordered the list of books into categories that make sense to me (and that are in many ways overlapping and arbitrary). These are the books that I’ve read and what I thought of some of them:

My reading challenge

This was the second year of my personal yearly reading challenge. Basically, I’ve tasked myself with reading a bunch of prize-winning books, mostly fiction. I was supposed to read these 20 books, and managed to read 12 of them (plus I finished one book from last year’s challenge).

There were some real gems in this list. Daanje’s book (or actually eleven books in one) really blew my mind, I’ve never read anything like it. Desai, Keegan, and Mbougar Sarr were al just very good. Cohen and Karunatilaka were both wonderfully funny, but in the painful kind of way. Ernaux is not really my style I guess, and Gee’s history of the life on earth didn’t really work for me either.

  • Anjet Daanje — Het lied van ooievaar en dromedaris (link)
  • Yorick Goldewijk — Films die nergens draaien (link)
  • Kiran Desai — The Inheritance of Loss (link)
  • Claire Keegan — Small Things Like These (link)
  • Mohamed Mbougar Sarr — De diepst verborgen herinnering van de mens (link)
  • Shehan Karunatilaka — The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (link)
  • Joshua Cohen — The Netanyahus (link)
  • Raoul Deleo — Terra Ultima (link)
  • Tijs Goldschmidt — Wolven op het ruiterpad (link)
  • Jurriën Hamer — Waarom schurken pech hebben en helden geluk (link)
  • Annie Ernaux — De jaren (link)
  • John Berger — G (link)
  • Gee, Henry — A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth (link)

B00k C7ub 4 N3rd$

The book club celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. We read six books, just like last year. Christian’s book is very insightful if you want to understand how AI really works (the kind that is based on reinforcement learning), and Hill’s book is quite the ride and scary food for thought. The rest wasn’t that notable.

  • Brian Christian — The Alignment Problem (link)
  • Kashmir Hill — Your Face Belongs to Us (link)
  • Bruce Schneier — A Hacker’s Mind (link)
  • Jennifer Pahlka — Recoding America (link)
  • Brett Scott — Cloudmoney (link)
  • Kazuo Ishiguro — Klara and the Sun (link)

Other fiction

Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence project, consisting of a book and an accompanying museum, is brilliant and really added to my visit to Istanbul in late 2022. Roemer’s triology is difficult, but rewards you with its fabulousness. And Dumon Tak’s book about animals giving talks in class about animals to animals is a must-read for anybody who has some playfulness left inside of them.

  • Orhan Pamuk — The Museum of Innocence (link)
  • Astrid H. Roemer — Onmogelijk moederland (link)
  • Bibi Dumon Tak and Annemarie van Haeringen — Vandaag houd ik mijn spreekbeurt over de anaconda (link)
  • Cathelijn Schilder — Eerst een huis (link)

Other non-fiction

Februari made me think about the rule of law (in the context of technology and climate) once more. Hef’s ghostwritten autobiography was a unexpected delight caused by its realness. Scott is always good. Kouyoumdjian’s picture book about Lebanon’s civil war is gut-wrenching while also managing to be hopeful, it is an amazing feat. Du Sautoy is good if you like games (and a bit of math). Frayne en Van den Berg make important points about the immorality of work. And Wells helped me sail a 6.5 meter yacht all by myself through Friesland last summer.

  • Maxim Februari — Doe zelf normaal (link)
  • Erik Jan Harmens and Hef — PUUR (link)
  • James C. Scott — Two Cheers for Anarchism (link)
  • Zaven Kouyoumdjian — Lebanon Shot Twice (link)
  • Duncan Wells — Stress-Free Sailing (link)
  • David Frayne — The Refusal of Work (link)
  • Marguerite van den Berg — Werk is geen oplossing (link)
  • Jamie Susskind — The Digital Republic (link)
  • Marcus du Sautoy — Around the World in 80 Games (link)
  • Frida Ramstedt — Het grote interieurboek (link)
  • Doret Schulkes — Hoe krijg ik een heerlijk huis (link)
  • Edouard Louis and Ken Loach — Dialoog over kunst en politiek (link)
  • Prof. Soortkill — Smibologie (link)

My consumption of other media

I track the articles that I’ve read and want to keep for use in the future via (which I wrote myself). It allows me a structured view of the sources, topics and authors that I read. The data below is not 100% correct, because I have a slight backlog in processing what I’ve saved, but it is precise enough to gain some insights from it.

My top twenty-five sources (in this order) for 2023 were: Het Parool (the only newspaper I browse through page by page every day), De Groene Amsterdammer (by far the most relevant Dutch commentary), The Economist, De Correspondent, The Guardian, The New York Review of Books, Vrij Nederland, Volkskrant, Follow the Money, The New York Times, NRC, Marginal Revolution (Tyler Cowen’s blog), Jacobin (the Dutch version), Bits of Freedom, WIRED, Pluralistic (Cory Doctorow’s blog), Rest of World, Trouw, MIT Technology Review, The Atlantic, HvanA, Bert Hubert (hero!), The Markup, OneWorld, and The Verge.

The top twenty-five non-geographical tags that I used the most (in this order) were: artificial-intelligence, black-struggle, racist-technology, education, generative-ai, politics, chatgpt, inequality, facial-recognition, openai, existential-risk, large-language-models, feminism, algorithmic-bias, climate-change, democracy, social-media, google, war, housing, privacy, capitalism, rule-of-law, labour, and proctoring. I think that pretty much sums up what interested me most during the year.

Finally, these are the people that I’ve read (or more precisely: stored for future reference) the most pieces from (or about): Maurits Martijn, Tyler Cowen, Cory Doctorow, Bert Hubert, Nadia Benaissa, Alex Tabarrok, Ewald Engelen, Patrick Meershoek, Thijs Broer, Jan-Hein Strop, Tim Wagemakers, Bruce Schneier, Rasit Elibol, Tim ’S Jongers, Randall Munroe, Josta van Bockxmeer, Ian Bogost, Maxim Februari, Nani Jansen Reventlow, Kashmir Hill, Eva Hofman, Robin Pocornie, David Davidson, Lynn Berger, and Rejo Zenger. I should give a special mention to Stephen Downes, whose summaries of all the pieces he curates for me (and for the rest of the world) often are gems of insight.

How I read and follow the news

I refuse to read (or listen to, or watch) any medium that personalizes their content for me specifically. This means I avoid recommender systems, and I also don’t go through the ‘most read’ or ‘most shared’ lists. And I’ve completely quit following or regularly looking at any social media. I consider this to be an inoculation against disinformation and manipulation, and against the filter bubble of course (if it does finally turn out to be for real).

I stay up to date by following specific sources, either in their magazine form or via RSS. I go through the whole source and then pick what I want to read. I strongly prefer to keep up to date through RSS instead of through email newsletters. Substack newsletters can be read via RSS, but there are still a few sources that I am forced to read via email (and I actively resent those).

When I noticed that I was spending too much time refreshing my RSS client to see if there was something new, I created a new methodology for looking at my feeds. I put my feeds in three different categories: morning, daily, and weekly. I check out the ‘morning’ feeds once a day when I wake up (it has the stuff you might want to talk about at the proverbial water cooler), and combine this with reading the Economist’s Espresso app, ANP press service newsletter, and a browse through Het Parool, marking the things I will likely read over lunch. I then allow myself to go through the ‘daily’ feeds only once a day (and in one go) and look at the ‘weekly’ feeds only once a week, on Fridays.

The podcasts I listened to

Using Pocket Cast, I still listen to all new episodes of Napleiten, De Rudi en Freddie Show, Against the Rules (by Michael Lewis, recently turned into Judging Sam), the Bits of Freedom Podcast, Ondertussen (the podcast of my faculty), Stuurloos, Vos & Lommer, and (forever) This American Life. New on the must-listen list is PJ Vogt’s Search Engine.

I’ll listen to most episodes of the Ezra Klein Show and of Conversations with Tyler. When the topic fancies me I’ll listen to 99% Invisible, Freakonomics Radio, Lex Bohlmeier’s interviews for De Correspondent, Philosophical Disquisitions, Cautionary Tales, Philosophy Bites and Philosophy Books, Docs, Planet Money, Radiolab, Talk Easy, This Machine Kills, and (very occasionally) the Tim Ferris Show.

There were a few one-off podcasting series that I listened to this year and enjoyed: De Kunst van het Verdwijnen, De Taxi Oorlog, De zaak Ramadan, This is Technology Ethics (still a few eposides to go), Dit kan geen toeval zijn, Welkom in de AI Fabriek (recommended!), and of course Morozov’s insanely detailed The Santiago Boys.

The films that I saw

Cineville allows me to go to the cinema as often as I’d like for a fixed monthly fee. I saw these 81 films through Cineville this year (in order of seeing them): Trois couleurs: Bleu (re-release), Living, À plein temps, Soy Cuba, The Banshees of Inisherin, Broker, Flux Gourmet, Hiroshima mon amour, De Koninklijke Republiek, No Bears, De acht bergen, Knor, Dekalog 7 + 8, Trois couleurs: Blanc (re-release), Women Talking, Orfeu Negro, Aftersun, Falcon Lake, Tár, The Holy Mountain (re-release), Trois couleurs: Rouge (re-release), Godland, Saint Omer, Dicht bij Vermeer, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Leila’s Brothers, EO, El topo (re-release), The Blue Caftan, Godland, Love Life, Empire of Light, Joyland, Sick of Myself, Kleinkinderen van de Oost, Princess, Plan 75, Sporen van Indië, Dalva, Pacifiction, Reijseger Fraanje Sylla: Soundtrack for the Soul, Fitzcarraldo (re-release), The Dmitriev Affair, Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer, Les pires, Into the Abyss, Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (re-release), Atlantide, Die große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner, The Fire Within: Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft, Lola, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (re-release), Lektionen in Finsternis, Coffee and Cigarettes, Oppenheimer, Le mépris (re-release), Past Lives, Anatomy of a Fall, Perfect Days, Killers of the Flower Moon, La haine, Warnow: reis naar het Noorderlicht, The Universal Theory, Anselm, And the King Said, What a Fantastic Machine, Total Trust, Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis), Geographies of Solitude, May December, Das Lehrerzimmer, Kes, De bezette stad, Napoleon, Kokomo City, Hardcore Never Dies, Fallen Leaves, The Other Side of Hope, Stop Making Sense, Dearest Fiona, The Idiots, and The Boy and the Heron.

My favourite two films of the year probably were Anatomy of a Fall and Pacifiction. The first had me on the edge of my seat for the full film, and the latter (which needs a big screen) spoke truth about power, politics, and colonialism. But there was a lot more that made an impression: Eye showed a retrospective of Werner Herzog’s films and each and every one of them was great. Many other older films that I saw were very rewarding (because of the Lindy Effect I am sure): Kieślowski’s Trois Couleur triology was beautiful, Ghost Dog and La Haine felt like old friends, and Kes was touching and has the most amazing scene that I saw this year: a PE lesson on a soccer pitch. Other films that are worth mentioning are Perfect Days (Japanese toilets), Tár (toxic masculinity and wokeness), Atlantide (speedboats and drugs in Venice), Dalva (an amazing and sad child), Geographies of Solitude (a nerd nerding), and the Kokomo City (an amazing film about black trans women in their strenght and vulnerabilty).

There must be something wrong with me because I couldn’t stand Past Lives (96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, 267 critics are wrong, I am with these 11).

I am still reeling from my first encounter with Jodorowsky’s The Holy Montain and can’t believe I had never seen it before. I will never forget the toad rendition of Columbus colonizing Latin America. This was such a blasphemous feast for the eye, that I don’t want to withhold the trailer from you:

Next to my Cineville binge, I also saw 9 documentaries at IDFA. The ones that have stuck with me are: Burning Out (firemen and a -woman in Amsterdam, watch it at NPO), Gerlach (a farmer next to a McDonalds drive-in), and Bushman (showing that all the discussion about racism that we are having now, was already there in the early seventies, there is very little maturation I am afraid).

What do I look forward to in 2024?

I will try (and fail) to complete my personal reading challenge for 2024, there is a lot to look forward to in these twenty books. Next to that, I very much look forward to reading some selections from Gramsci’s prison notebooks, Electrify and How Infrastructure Works (these are related topics), When I sing mountains dance, Herzog’s autobiography, and all the books on Republicanism that I will undoubtedly get to read, including Pettit’s latest. Finally, I will try to read Robert Caro’s monumental biography of Robert Moses: The Power Broker, as the 99% Invisible is going to read it throughout the year and managed to sell me on it.

I will also switch to a new note-taking system for diary purposes (TiddlyWiki using TiddlyPW). This means that I should be able to add visits to museums, the theatre, concerts, and other beautiful things to next year’s edition of this post.